BR program to plant 50 citrus trees citywide

A program that provides fresh citrus fruit free to the Baton Rouge community is going through an expansion this year with the addition of nearly 50 trees planted around the Capital City.

This is the second year for Baton Rouge Green’s City Citrus program, and along with increasing the number of citrus trees, Baton Rouge Green and volunteers also are expanding the ways in which they share the fruit with the community.

Unlike last year when the only way to get the fruit was to pick it yourself from the trees at the program’s three sites accessible to the public, this year the Citrus Shepherds, the volunteers who maintain the trees, brought together a whole slew of new ideas to get the fruit out to the community.

“This doesn’t work at all without the Citrus Shepherds,” said Robert Seemann, Baton Rouge Green program director.

Although several of the sites will still be accessible to the public, including BREC parks where anyone can pick and enjoy the fruit, the Citrus Shepherds have come up with new methods to distribute the fruit at some of its other sites and will determine what works and what doesn’t as the program expands.

For example, the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church’s Our Father’s Garden already has a relationship with a local food bank, Seemann said.

The church has a number of volunteers lined up to maintain its fruit trees and will gather additional volunteers when harvest time arrives. The fruit will be donated to the food bank, which will distribute it to the community, he said.

Another method of planting is getting a trial run at Studio C on Government Street.

A lack of space meant the only way Studio C could participate in the program was to plant two kumquat trees in container planters.

“To us, this is a really big deal,” Seemann said.

This type of container planting is something Seemann said he’s wanted to see happen in downtown areas.

Alexander’s Market off Highland Road already has planted a number of satsumas and other fruit trees to provide snacks for children who visit the store.

When the store’s staff heard about the City Citrus program and decided it was a perfect fit for what they were already trying to do.

“(We want) to get kids more into the habit of eating healthy food,” said Lathan Alexander, owner of the market.

Alexander’s has about 30 to 40 citrus trees on land next to the store, and the response from customers, both children and adults, has been great, he said.

“Since we were giving the fruit away anyway, it was obvious we were on the same page with City Citrus,” Alexander said.

The new trees are about 3 feet tall when they are first planted, and although they’ll bear fruit the first year, it can be hit or miss on whether that fruit is sweet or tart, Seemann said.

It’s during the second year of growth that these trees will be considered fruit-bearing, and anyone who has had access to a satsuma tree knows that can mean a lot of fruit.

This year, the experiment goes even further when instead of just satsumas, there also will be Meyer lemons, kumquats, Persian limes and ruby red grapefruits.

At the Family Youth and Service Center, the 20 trees to be planted will help complement the garden the center is planting to help provide fresh food options for people who come to the center for help.

Although the campus is behind fences and gates, director Roxson Welch said that doesn’t mean it’s closed off from the community. She said last year there were 5,000 families that came through the center.

“We’ve got an opportunity to share with the community,” she said.

Once the trees mature, it will be nice to be able to tell people to grab a bag of fruit to take home with them, she said.

“All of these kinds of fruit that are straight from the tree? How great is that,” Welch said.

The fruit will also pair nicely with the cooking classes that will be held at the center to help educate people on how to prepare the fresh produce and citrus, she said.

“People trust something from a grocery more than something outside,” she said.